Monsoon is screening in UK cinemas, streaming on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema and available to buy on Peccadillo Player and iTunes from 25 September, and on Blu-ray and DVD from 2 November 2020.

An empty crossing appears in a static bird’s-eye-view shot before the lights turn green and traffic begins to stream into the composition. Cars and mopeds navigate around one another like eddies and ripples in a flowing watercourse, and drifting along in the current is Kit (Henry Golding).

Born in Vietnam but raised in the UK, Kit is in Saigon for the first time since his parents fled after reunification, when he was eight years old – arriving as a tourist to return his parents’ ashes to their homeland. “They went through so much to leave here and now you bring them back,” says an old family friend, expressing in words the delicately observed themes of mourning, dislocation and conflicted identity that enrich Cambodian-British director Hong Khaou’s contemplative second feature film Monsoon.

Those who were enamoured of his poignant debut Lilting (2014) will find much that is familiar here. Kit is a gay man who, while clearly very comfortable with his sexuality, has to reconcile that identity with the limbo of being an immigrant in his current home and a stranger in his former one. “I hardly recognise this country any more,” he laments, having previously had to admit with embarrassment that his Vietnamese is not so good nowadays, and he’s in need of help translating.

Monsoon feels like a precisely considered expression of the untethered experience of migration – undoubtedly owing much of its pin-sharp observation to Khaou’s own personal history – and the difficulty in anchoring yourself when your life and environs seem to be a constantly roiling sea. Hardly any of this is explicitly communicated; instead, themes slowly accumulate through snatched moments of hotelroom Skype calls, parcelled-out exposition and silent wanders through old neighbourhoods.

Hong has the same confidence in Golding that he had in Ben Whishaw’s Richard in Lilting – allowing them space and silence to just be. Golding is afforded the opportunity to do something strikingly different from the chatty charm he showed in Crazy Rich Asians, being left instead with little to say for long stretches of time. In the opening moments, the only words we hear from him are a request for the wi-fi password, and yet it takes no time at all to understand who Kit is.

Parker Sawyers as Lewis and Henry Golding as Kit in Monsoon

The camera often lingers on his face as he observes, and Golding regularly conveys precisely what he’s thinking in wordless scenes that could easily lapse into a broody malaise but never do. Benjamin Kracun’s camerawork captures him in mid- and wide-shots, emphasising his position in his surroundings, or shoots him through windows to signify his isolation.

The closest Golding gets to charming is in a series of romantic and sexual encounters with Lewis (Parker Sawyers), who comes with his own set of conflicted identities – he’s an African-American ex-pat living in Vietnam where he father served during the war.

Their unfolding relationship is complicated by their family histories. “I’m not one of those Yanks,” claims Lewis after Kit questions why he would want to remember the Vietnam War with pride. It’s a political undercurrent that courses through Monsoon, further muddying the waters of the drama beneath a serene surface.

Originally published: 20 August 2019